Archive | January, 2017

Doesn’t Look Like Anything To Me

Snoqualmie Pass

In the snow, it is the same forward as it is back.

In the late winter at the Snoqualmie Pass, I walked into the snowdrifts under the fir trees. A truck on the freeway sounded its horn, and under that the rush of tires on the frozen concrete whirred and groaned. The crust of snow shellacked with a rain mostly held. When my boot broke the surface, my boot sole plunged into powder, filling my sock with shards of ice and a spray of snow. The snow melted and soaked my socks. The ice shards melted slowly as I pulled my boot back up to the crusted surface and kept moving across the ice.

I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I had wanted to go out into the snow and had this image of walking until I came to a creek that was free from ice out in the middle of the current. The flowing water would be black. And around it the white snow and blue icicles hanging from the trees would make it feel as though I had come to a place, somewhere out in the forest, but as I slowly made my way across the ice crush between the trees, the entire forest began to look the same. There was the sound of the freeway behind me, receding, until I could only hear the occasional flump of a tree releasing its snow load or I could hear the whistle of a marmot or the chatter of birds eating whatever they could find. A camp robber had been following me the half mile or mile I traveled into the forest.

A misty fog or clouds depending on how you wanted to look at it had descended to the tree tops and obscured the cliffs and mountain tops that would provide some sense of where I was. I could see how easily I could get lost. I kept breaking through the ice and left a trail back to where I came, otherwise, forward and back were the same sequence of heaps of snow and ice, trees with ice clinging to the bark. To head, back was the same as moving forward. Eventually, I arrived at a creek with free-flowing water in the channel. The water was black in the white landscape. I turned to head back but didn’t know where to return. To head back was the same as moving forward.

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A Time to Eat: On Making a Living as a Writer

A pleasant simple habitual and tyrannical and authorised and educated and resumed and articulate separation. This is not tardy.

A pleasant simple habitual and tyrannical and authorized and educated and resumed and articulate separation. This is not tardy.

Slate had a review of a new book called Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living with has some great observations and information about writers such as Cheryl Strayed and the nuts and bolts of how much they earn from publishing their books.

I spent my twenties in writing programs. A small press published my first book in 1999, and have published eight books with a ninth coming out later this year. I spent my thirties teaching creative writing in a continuing education context (University of Washington Extension, Richard Hugo House, The Writing Center in Bethesda) or as a volunteer, and then spoke at the Associated Writing Program (AWP) on panels over a couple of years (2012-2015).

I learned that the writing industry (when it comes to prose) is predicated on – like acting – the starry-eyed concept that you too can MAKE IT as a writer. This means if you have the skills, you will pay the bills with publishing books. Conversely if you do not have the skills, you will not pay the bills.) Sitting at the book fair table at AWP  I could overhear the gaggle of graduate students strolling past the small press table where I sat talking about agents, book advances, about getting out of school and really getting down to writing once they got a book contract. Some of these students had paid a lot of money for the training to be a novelist. Many programs cost more than 50,000 a year. They were looking at coming out of a two year program in debt more than 100K. They were going to be need a pretty generous advance on their first novel.

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No Outlet

No Outlet

Back of a stop sign at Saltwater State Park in Des Moines, Washington in the winter of 2017.

I pass this sign when I walk from my house to the beach. It is a stop sign on the way from my house toward the beach. I have never stopped walking when I passed this stop sign. On the way back from the beach, I pass the sign and enter the region that is here declared as no outlet, a set of dead ends and cut-de-sacs, and I walk a trail that leads into the forest. I pass along this trail through the forest and have a choice of where I would like to exit. I can pass along behind a row of houses along a muddy track and come out onto a paved cul-de-sac in a development of houses built in the mid-1960s. Or, I can walk along a road that ends in a gate that has never been open, and then walk alongside the road on a shoulder that is not really meant to hold pedestrians. Blackberries hang from the maple trees and a fence. Or, I can walk up to a set of bridges that cross over the canyons where the paves roads end and then the creek cuts through narrow gullies that finger out into the subdivisions built along Pacific Highway South.

There is clearly an outlet at this point even though the sign declares to anyone paying attention that there isn’t one. I routinely ignore the warning labels and laws with their clearly stated does and don’ts and I don’t know at what point in growing up I learned then and at what point I learned that I should not follow them. Continue Reading →

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